US public education continues to fare badly, and nobody seems to care

For many years we have been debating the sorry state of US public education, (too many drop outs, large percentages of high school graduates who cannot read or count), and how it could and should be improved. Alas, much talk and very little action. Nationwide, the public schools sector seems to belong to a different universe, a universe in which professionalism, the pursuit of academic excellence, merit-based pay and promotions for teachers, accountability, and cost-effectiveness are unknown concepts. 

Below, you can look at yet another illustration of this catastrophic failure that essentially condemns students educated in bad schools to a life of under achievement. (Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2019)

In Colorado, not a poor under resourced state, most high school students perform well below grade. Many of them cannot pass a simple test that would allow them to join the Army. This is outrageous. But you do not hear any public outcry.

Here is my theory about this general indifference regarding this colossal societal failure when it comes to educating our kids. The truth is that the children of key policy-makers, at all levels, in most cases do have access to quality education. As they normally live in good areas, they can enroll in higher quality public schools. If not, they can go to private schools. In other words, their parents are reassured that these kids will get a good or even superior high school education, itself the ticket to a good university and eventually a rewarding, well remunerated career. They are taken care of. And what about all the others? The others, oh well the others will go to the regular (bad to failing) public schools. They will graduate (those who do) with minimal skills and knowledge, while they will often be functionally illiterate, as the Letter to the Editor reproduced below illustrates. 

From: Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2019

“Regarding Baker A. Miller’s “The Smear Campaign Against Charters” (op-ed, Aug. 14): Last week our state test results were released here in Colorado: Only 45.8% of our students read at grade level, and only 34.7% can do math at grade level.” [Bold added]

“These results have changed little over the last 20 years. This is noteworthy because our current governor, Jared Polis, worked to pass an amendment to the state constitution in 2000 that required education spending to increase at the rate of inflation plus 1% every year. This should put to rest the notion that more money is the answer. No doubt we will hear the usual calls for increased funding of public education, but even if we gave the system a billion dollars tomorrow, it wouldn’t know what to do with the money.”

“I own a remedial-education business and have lost count of the number of students I’ve taught who hold high-school diplomas from the Denver and Aurora Public Schools systems but are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Many want to join the military but can’t pass the entrance exam (the ASVAB). It’s official—the academic standards required to join the Army are higher than those needed to earn a Colorado high-school diploma.”

“Isn’t it high time we moved this incompetence from the realm of the merely scandalous to the specifically criminal? What’s to stop U.S. attorneys around the country from filing RICO [The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] charges against school boards, superintendents and union officials? If there’s a bigger racket than public education in the U.S., I’m unaware of it.”

(Signed) Nate Braden, Denver

The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2019